Vision Eternel Interview For Goat Palace
John Ellison, founder and editor of Goat Palace webzine, recently conducted an in-depth interview with Vision Eternel founder Alexander Julien. The interview was conducted between August 7-20, 2020 and explores the motives behind creating Vision Eternel’s upcoming release For Farewell Of Nostalgia. It can be read here.
Since it is no longer hosted online, the interview is now presented here for archival purposes:
-I feel we should start with the visually arresting LP artwork you’ve chosen for your new Vision Eternel record. There’s a paradox in this choice, I think — The title is “For Farewell Of Nostalgia,” and yet this artwork is a fond tribute to both a legendary recording artist (who passed away in 1998), as well as one of his most iconic LP jacket designs from 1955. Far from being a farewell, this seems to me to be a kind of returning to nostalgia as a visual metaphor. Can you talk to me a bit about your journey toward this choice, and who created it?
I absolutely adore the illustration that graces For Farewell Of Nostalgia‘s cover. I feel that it is the first real artwork that I have had for Vision Eternel. On the first three releases (Seul Dans L’obsession, Un Automne En Solitude and An Anthology Of Past Misfortunes [the compilation, not the boxed set]), the artwork was simply my own photography. The photographs were not particularly good and I do not consider myself a photographer by any means. I liked the colours within but the subject matters were rather bland. You might say that this style is typical of ambient album artworks today, but at the time, they were simply used because I had no alternative… I wanted to handle every aspect of Vision Eternel myself, including the artwork, and that resulted with ordinary covert arts.
For Abondance De Périls and The Last Great Torch Song, my friend and former room-mate Marina Polak provided a photograph for the artwork. I had attempted to take photographs for Abondance De Périls myself but they were sub-par, even by the standards of my own photographic competence. Marina, who was a terrific photographer and studied art and photography at the university, offered to contribute one of her own. The moment that I saw the picture, I fell in love with it; it represented Vision Eternel perfectly. The photograph is credited to her name but she did not actually take the picture. She had found the negative in a garbage bin in the streets of Poland during one of her visits in the mid-2000s. From what I understand, the person who owns a photograph’s negative becomes the legal owner. When the time came to deciding on the artwork for The Last Great Torch Song a year later, I considered doing an homage to In The Wee Small Hours with with my friend and photographer Jeremy Roux, but wound using another portion of Polak’s picture.
The artwork for Echoes From Forgotten Hearts was done on the rush by Jeremy Roux. This one was more in line with the band’s early artworks: it was extremely bland and without direction. It was nondescript. It faded into the background next to other ambient albums on a web-page. But that is what I was going for at the time; it was what I asked Jeremy to come up with. He is actually a terrific graphic designer and he was responsible for all of the early visual material used by Abridged Pause Recordings and also designed Vision Eternel’s first logo in 2008.
The artwork from An Anthology Of Past Misfortunes (the boxed set) was on the opposite end of the spectrum: it was vivid and eye-catching. It was constructed partly from original abstract paintings commissioned to Rain Frances and partly from a crafted cardinal bird done by my late grand-mother Pierrette Bourdon. She was a craft artist and the bird artwork was actually her last piece of art before she passed away in 2012.
The approach to For Farewell Of Nostalgia‘s artwork was completely different. It was very well planned out. When I re-recorded the extended play in 2019 (it was recorded twice), I wanted to contain my mood and atmosphere so that the entire release would sound whole. That was very important for me and for a concept album; you do not want the songs to sound like they were recorded or mixed at different times. I brought out one of my favourite albums: Frank Sinatra’s In The Wee Small Hours. I put the vinyl sleeve next to my computer so that I would always have it there to inspire me. I also limited myself to solely watching Frank Sinatra’s films during those two months. He is an incredible actor and most people do not seem to remember (or know about) that aspect of his career. I am not a fan of his musicals (nor of the musical film genre as a whole), but his dramatic films are amongst my favourite films. When it came time to decide on the artwork, it seemed like an obvious choice; pay homage to Frank Sinatra’s In The Wee Small Hours. Tom Waits had done it with his second album The Heart Of Saturday Night, so I figured that I could too.
It took a long time to find the right person to illustrate it. First, though, I went to the extent of combining several photo shoots from over the years (some done with Jeremy Roux, others with Rain Frances) into an original collage mockup that represented Montreal and paid tribute to Frank Sinatra. It also took several new photo shoots until I was happy with my pose; I wanted the angle of my body and my facial expression to be just right. This was not a parody like a “Weird Al” Yankovic album cover (and I mean that respectfully); it was a legitimate homage to something that I felt was part of me, that helped me get through so many of those lonely, depressed nights that led me to write and record this music.
It was important for me to incorporate things into the artwork that represented me, that made it a little different from Frank Sinatra’s original, and that tied into the concept of the release. I smoke a pipe (and not cigarettes like Frank Sinatra did) so that was put into the image. Another detail that perhaps only a hat fanatic may notice is the subtle difference in shape and style of my fedora. Frank Sinatra had a skinner face so he wore narrow-brimmed hats; I have a round face so wide-brimmed hats suit me better. My hat also has a ribbon edge binding, while Frank Sinatra’s was a raw edge cut. I wore an overcoat and scarf for the photo shoot, while Frank Sinatra wore a suit and tie. Several Montreal landmarks were also put into the background: the Montreal Harbour Bridge, Windsor Station, the Saint Lawrence River, the Sailors’ Memorial Clock Tower on Victoria Pier. There were many more iconic Montreal structures that I originally wanted to include in the background but it became too busy, too removed from Frank Sinatra’s minimalist artwork. My background is very descriptive; it clearly represents Montreal, whereas Frank Sinatra’s cover made him the sole focus with a nondescript street scene behind him.
I finally landed on American illustrator Michael Koelsch because he had illustrated two cover artworks for The Criterion Collection. In 2000 he illustrated the DVD cover (later re-used for the Blu-ray edition) for The Blob; and in 2001 he illustrated the DVD cover for My Man Godfrey (this one was unfortunately not re-used for the Blu-ray edition). Pulp art design has made a considerable comeback in film posters and in paperbacks but it was really difficult finding someone who was able to work it into an album cover art. Luckily, Michael Koelsch happened to be a big fan of Frank Sinatra and knew In The Wee Small Hours well, so he was able to incorporate the sadness of both albums (Frank Sinatra’s and Vision Eternel’s) into the new painting. He had also worked on several music album artworks during his career so he understood what I wanted and where I was coming from.
I was aiming for an eye-catching presentation with the artwork of For Farewell Of Nostalgia. I did not want people to look at my release and think “Hey, this looks like a nice peaceful album”, in the manner in which so many album covers remain descriptive of their genres. This is Vision Eternel’s first extended play released and distributed by established record labels (meaning not my own imprints), and I want new listeners to be intrigued by it, and to approach it from a different perspective than they are used to.
-I want to talk about the new record, but first, you’ve been in the music business a while now. You’ve had not one but two of your own record labels, Mortification Records and Abridged Pause Recordings, and now you’ve signed with Somewherecold Records and Geertruida for “For Farewell Of Nostalgia.” You’ve been a very independent spirit. You’ve even used the word “loner” to describe yourself. What’s it like letting go of some of the control over your work?
One of the benefits of self-releasing your work is that you do retain full control over everything. But you are also entirely responsible for its failure (if it gets ignored by critics and public) and you are limited by your personal abilities. The ideology behind each of the record labels with which I have been involved started out very differently from where they ended up though. Mortification Records was conceptualized in September 2006 as a partnership by the founding members of the Triskalyon collective; namely Eric Bryant, Aurélien Esnault and myself. Eric was responsible for naming the record label; it was inspired by the name of his band Mortifier. The goal with Mortification Records was to have equal involvement from the participants, everyone from the Triskalyon collective, helping each other out with every step: composing, performing, recording, designing, releasing and distributing a musical release. Triskalyon was not a band but rather a group of black metal (and later dark ambient) musicians from around the globe that wanted to stick together. If a member of Triskalyon was lacking a drummer for his project, another member would help out. If someone was lacking in art design skills for an album cover, one of the members would contribute. If someone needed poetry or lyrics for a song, someone would provide them. The releases on Mortification Records were intended to be financed equally by everyone involved, and since everyone was supposed to help out with the projects, there was a hope that everyone would also help in promoting the releases.
The good-will fantasy of Mortification Records vanished extremely quickly, even before the first release. Half of the members of Triskalyon, including Eric, departed and I somehow became the only member actively recording and releasing music (before new members were eventually recruited months later). Aurélien was a great visual artist and he took on the role, by default I am afraid, of designing all of the artwork for the releases. Since I was mainly recording and releasing demos, as opposed to extended plays or albums, which is quite common in the black metal scene, we decided that it would be less of a financial burden to distribute the music digitally. The one thing that we did differently was that our digital release covers were designed to be printed and fit into a compact cassette case so that fans could download, print and dub their own demo tapes.
By March 2007, Triskalyon had had its share of revolving musicians and the collective was put to rest. With Aurélien out of the picture, I somewhat inherited Mortification Records, perhaps by right since all of the releases had been by my own bands and projects. A great amount of brilliant musicians had participated in the collective during its span, but few of them were actively writing, recording and releasing music. One exception was Louis-Claude Roux and his band Havarax (he later played in Hacride). But the rest were passive musicians, not full-time artists.
I always felt that Mortification Records was holding me back. To put things in the proper perspective, in 2006, record labels that released music digitally were derogatorily referred to as net-labels. That was an insult, a way of segregating digital record labels from real record labels. Things changed greatly during the following decade; digital record labels thrived and became accepted by society. But Mortification Records was before this revolution (not that we were pioneers of digital releases by any means), so it was never given serious consideration.
I started my own record label Abridged Pause Recordings in February 2008 because I wanted a fresh canvas. The plan with Abridged Pause Recordings was to release indie rock, post-rock and post-metal bands that I enjoyed on coloured vinyl (as opposed to releasing my own material digitally). For the first six months, I was adamant that Abridged Pause Recordings would never release my own music, and that is why Mortification Records was only gradually phased out, rather than immediately shut down.
By the end of 2008, however, I gave in to having Vision Eternel on the roster, and that was only because it was to be part of a split 7” vinyl release with Ethereal Beauty, a Californian post-rock band. Dreams Of The Drowned and Black Autumn were the first two bands signed to Abridged Pause Recordings and that was the style of music on which I really wanted to focus.
Over time, I came to realize that promotion and marketing was not within my aptitude. I felt that the bands on Abridged Pause Recordings’ roster deserved better exposure so I narrowed the focus to solely releasing my own music again. That way, if a release was panned, only I would be affected. Abridged Pause Recordings does have a much more professional business structure than Mortification Records did, in that I also operate a music and text publishing imprint (Abridged Pause Publishing), a video production outfit (Abridged Pause Productions), a merchandising arm (Abridged Pause Apparel) and a webzine (Abridged Pause Blog). All of these divisions are under the umbrella company Abridged Pause Enterprises.
I always wanted to retain full control over Vision Eternel, so I rarely allowed any other record labels to release its music; it was too personal. And I enjoy releasing my own music but the issue is that I have a limited reach. I live in the country and I really value my privacy and seclusion. I am a bit of a loner; I tend to prefer the company of animals and nature and that clashes with the idea of marketing a release. I do not maintain an active personal presence on social media but I force myself to keep Vision Eternel somewhat active out there.
I was very lucky with Somewherecold Records and Geertruida because Jason Lamoreaux and Yannick Tinbergen gave me a lot of artistic freedom and understood where I was coming from. I had a specific visual presentation that I wanted to offer with For Farewell Of Nostalgia and they were both willing to step out of their comfort zone to make the custom packaging happen. They were also willing to let me handle my own publishing, through Abridged Pause Publishing, and the retail digital distribution, through Abridged Pause Recordings. That was very generous on their part. In addition, Somewherecold Records recently signed a global distribution deal with The Business so I am very excited about For Farewell Of Nostalgia‘s distribution potential! I would go so far as to say that this will be Vision Eternel’s first properly-distributed release!
With Vision Eternel, it has always been part of the concept to release new material of the 14th of a month. This originated with the debut extended play Seul Dans L’obsession. It was released on February 14, 2007, Valentine’s Day, because it was a concept extended play about a heartbreak. Due to artwork delays, the second extended play, Un Automne En Solitude, missed the February 14 date; it was instead released on March 14, 2008. An Anthology Of Past Misfortunes (the compilation) was released on February 14, 2009; The Last Great Torch Song was released on March 14, 2012, Echoes From Forgotten Hearts was released on February 14, 2015; and An Anthology Of Past Misfortunes (the boxed set) was released on April 14, 2018.
The only exception to this concept was Abondance De Périls, which was released on March 9, 2010. That was a mistake. It was done because Abridged Pause Recordings briefly conformed to the retail regulations of releasing new music on Tuesdays; I picked the Tuesday closest to March 14, 2010.
Having to align For Farewell Of Nostalgia for a release date on the 14th day of a month was more difficult this time because it had to fit with the schedule of three different record labels. But I am very happy with the September 14, 2020 release date because autumn is my favourite season and I feel that For Farewell Of Nostalgia is a fitting release to listen to during that season. It touches base on several emotional subjects that only autumn can represent.
-Your roots in music span a range of genres (I know you don’t particularly like the categorization of music in general, especially yours — I believe you’ve coined the term “melogaze” to escape the “labelers”) from pop to metal to dark ambient, even movie soundtracks, which I believe you’ve created as well. “For Farewell Of Nostalgia” feels like an ambient record for someone like me who works from outside the recording studio. However, in a genre-driven industry, how would you like people to think about “For Farewell Of Nostalgia”?
Ambient is certainly an acceptable term and one that I do not mind being affiliated with. I am not sure if the ambient community is ready to accept For Farewell Of Nostalgia as an ambient release though…
When I first started Vision Eternel, I had never listened to ambient. I had heard dark ambient and black ambient side-projects from black metal musicians, but never any straight ambient (like Brian Eno for example). It was only once Vision Eternel’s first extended play, Seul Dans L’obsession, was composed, recorded and released that I sought out to find the genre that I had accidentally, yet naturally, fallen into. Through extensive online research, I landed on the term ethereal and that is the genre with which I first labeled the MP3s that I circulated throughout 2007. But I always knew that Vision Eternel did not truly fit that label
I recorded Vision Eternel’s sophomore extended play, Un Automne En Solitude, a few months later between May and July 2007 (though it was not released until 2008). In June 2007, I put together a compilation of several songs from each of those two releases as a demo/sampler to showcase my recording abilities. It was required as an attachment with my application to Recording Arts Canada, an audio production college in Montreal. The person who reviewed my application, and ultimately accepted my enrollment into the school, called me on the phone to tell me that my music impressed him and reminded him of Brian Eno’s The Shutov Assembly; that was the first time that I heard of Brian Eno and of authentic ambient music. I enjoyed The Shutov Assembly but neither Brian Eno nor ambient music was added to my playlist.
When I coined the term melogaze in 2010, I stated that it was because there did not exist a genre or style specific enough to pin-point the type of music that Vision Eternel was making. In hindsight, what I should have said was that there was not a genre or style broad enough to encompass Vision Eternel’s different facets. But that may also be misleading because I am by no means an experimental or avant-garde artist. I perceive Vision Eternel’s compositions as rather straight-forward.
The term melogaze was constructed from the words melodrama and shoegaze, because at the time I felt that shoegaze was the closest genre, thematically, to what I was doing; even though I was not personally listening to shoegaze music. Shoegaze was regarded as introspective and introverted. The melo portion of the word was often misinterpreted as coming from mellow. But it is taken from my adoration of melodramatic films, especially those of Douglas Sirk, Woody Allen and Alfred Hitchcock. Coincidentally, and I only found this out later, the etymology of the word melodrama is in itself a combination of melos, Greek for music, and drame, French for drama. So in its purest form, Vision Eternel could simply be labeled as melodrama; dramatic music.
In an attempt to avoid having to explain what melogaze is, I have often told people that Vision Eternel’s music is ambient; only to be rebutted with the argument that it lacks keyboards. Or that it is not post-rock because it lacks drums; that it is not space rock because it lacks a psychedelic element; that it is not ethereal for lack of electronics; that it is neither shoegaze nor dream pop/dream rock for lack of vocals; that it is not drone due to the presence of song-structure; that it is not dark ambient because of its hopeful nature; and that it most certainly is not emo because… well because real emo was something that existed in the 1990s (and I do not entirely disagree with that last statement).
Vision Eternel certainly has a little bit of each of those genres, yet it is not any one of them. To complicate things further, my songwriting influences are almost completely unrelated to those genres, or even to music at times. My favourite band is Faith No More, a band that did everything in their power to avoid being categorized. But to say that Vision Eternel sounds like Faith No More would be absurd. Their influence is nevertheless in my subconscious, especially in the way that I approach the bass guitar parts when recording. I take a lot from Billy Gould. I additionally take in subconscious influences from The Smashing Pumpkins, Elton John, Frank Sinatra, Limp Bizkit, Swans, Pink Floyd, Harmonium, Black Sand And Starless Nights, Clint Mansell and Bernard Herrmann. Those are probably the artists that are mainly responsible for the way that Vision Eternel sounds.
But there are more, and some are representative of different eras of Vision Eternel. It might seem odd for me to mention Morbid Angel as influential to Vision Eternel, but if one was to listen to their song Desolate Ways, I think that it would prove adequate. The same applies to King Diamond’s Something Weird, Ozzy Osbourne’s Killer Of Giants, Killswitch Engage’s And Embers Rise and Inhale, Limp Bizkit’s Boiler, Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb, The Beatles’ Hey Jude, Bruce Cockburn’s Lovers In A Dangerous Time, Big Country’s In A Big Country and Wonderland, A Flock Of Seagulls’ I Ran (So Far Away) and Space Age Love Song, Dennis Wilson’s River Song, Bill Withers’ She’s Lonely and Eliminator’s Prescription For Extinction, Breaking The Wheel, Time Enough At Last and The Man In The Picture. At times it may not be full songs but only a short melodic interlude that stuck with me.
Eiman Iraninejad and I used to banter about who influenced whom first; Vision Eternel or Eliminator (a thrash metal band from New Jersey). The truth is that Eiman is the greatest guitarist that I have ever known. In 2005 he sent me a home-recorded demo; this song has since been lost, but from memory, it was not unlike the melodic reverb-layered solo in Eliminator’s Prescription For Extinction. It was this incredibly beautiful and melodic ambient guitar solo. It was unlike anything that I had ever heard before. I honestly feel that this was the single most influential piece of music that led to the creation of Vision Eternel.
A lot of the musical influences for Vision Eternel come from my subconscious; songs that I really have to think back on as meaningful. What comes from my consciousness however are film influences. Oftentimes I will be so emotionally moved after watching a film that those sentiments transcribe into my compositions, or into the recordings.
Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo has long been my favourite film and I believe that it is responsible for the recurring concept within Vision Eternel’s extended plays. Hitchcock described the theme of Vertigo as: “boy meets girl; boy loses girl; boy meets girl again; boy loses girl again”. The emotional torture of longing for a lost love, and eternally hoping for her return; only for it to start all over again with each new love, has been the basis of every Vision Eternel extended play. But being in love, no matter how devastating and hurtful the end of it might be, even if only for a moment, is worth the pain.
-Vision Eternel is not your first band, or even your only active music project. Can you talk a bit about your music career, maybe about your evolution as a recording artist working on earlier projects?
Vision Eternel’s priority has shifted many times over the years, especially while I became involved with other bands and projects. However, I now consider it to be my principal band. I do consider my atmospheric black metal band Vision Lunar to be active, though I am not actively composing music for it right now. Vision Eternel started as a solo project, then expanded to a full band, next reverted back to a solo band with several hiatuses; it finally became my principal creative output around December 2016, right before its ten-year anniversary. That was an important decision which I will cover in greater detail when answering one of your later questions.
My very first band was called Les Rocker’s around early 1999 and consisted of my sisters and I playing cover songs with fake instruments, most notably The Offspring’s Pretty Fly (For a White Guy). I wish that I could recall some of the other songs that we did. We performed for visiting extended family members.
By this time, one of my poems had already been published in a local newspaper and I had also written an unpublished short story and the lyrics to a song with my cousin Maxime Julien. But I did not see myself as a writer nor had I any interest in pursuing that path. The writings that I had done were mainly one-off leisurely projects; I did not see it as an art form. I was much more interested in reading books as a child, rather than listening to music or watching films. I was an obsessive reader; I took books with me everywhere, even to summer camps.
I did enjoy listening to music but it was nowhere near as important to me as it later became in my teenage years. Early on, I mainly heard what my parents set the radio to or what tapes they played while driving. I occasionally listened to pop rock radio and heard the singles of the day or listened to my father’s tapes. Many years later, I found out that several of my extended family members were artists, some played instruments, and a couple had even been in established bands and released music. But none of that was ever shared with me by my immediate family. I was oblivious to that artistic side for a long time.
I moved from Pierrefonds, Quebec, Canada, where I had lived my entire childhood, to Edison, New Jersey, United States in October 1999. It was a considerable change in my life and there were some very difficult and emotional times, but I assimilated extremely quickly. It was in New Jersey that I began taking in a great deal of new music from my friends Jeremy Roux and Andrew Palladino. They were responsible for introducing me to my own music so to speak.
Jeremy purchased his first guitar in early 2002; I received mine in December of that year as a Christmas present from my maternal grand-mother Pierrette Bourdon (the craft artist). I then found out that Andrew owned a bass and we started practicing together for what would become my first band The Slopin Fairy 7, active from June 2003 to January 2004. The Slopin Fairy 7 was named after misinterpreted lyrics in a Limp Bizkit song; the music was a mix of nu-metal, alternative rock and punk rock. Andrew went on to play keyboards and he is today an actor and author.
In the summer of 2003 I also had an acoustic folk duo with my friend Thomas Nunziata, Jr. that we named The Tom & Alex Project (a pun on The Alan Parsons Project). We both worked at the American Red Cross and had a folk-comedy extended play in the works tentatively titled Songs For The Red Cross Of America. Tom was another important contributor to my musical development; he introduced me to Faith No More. He and his father both had radio shows so they were exposed to so much music all of the time. He was an incredibly open-minded and easy-going human being, always finding the positive in a song or album; he would never say things like “hey this band sucks”. I discovered a lot through him.
My next band was Scapegoat which took up most of 2004. Scapegoat started out as a nu-metal cover band, performing songs by System Of A Down and Pink Floyd, because System Of A Down had covered Pink Floyd’s Goodbye Blue Sky live. So we covered Pink Floyd’s Is There Anybody Out There?. Scapegoat transitioned into metalcore as I started listening to bands like Lamb Of God, Throwdown, Eighteen Visions, Bleeding Through, Killswitch Engage and even Mushroomhead.
In the autumn of 2004 I met Howard Change. He became a very close friend and another music mentor, introducing me to extreme metal genres like black and death metal. Howard was an intellectual and always encouraged me to research and discover new bands and subjects. He actually introduced me to Wikipedia in 2004 and said that in my spare time I should browse and learn! Howard (on vocals) and I (on guitar) started an unnamed band in the summer of 2005. After replacing the original drummer and welcoming Mike Obregon (cousin of Luis Obregon from Mutiny Within), the band took the name Throne Of Mortality. Early compositions were closer to death metal but I quickly found my style in black metal. Unfortunately, Howard started attending university and had less time to devote to the band, but before quitting, he taught me how to perform growling vocals! So Throne Of Mortality became somewhat of a solo project, though not by choice. I simply could not find musicians that played black metal in my neighborhood. Howard went on to play in several bands including Funeral Junkie, Black Albatross, Valleys Of The Living and Uma Orla. He also directed a couple of independent films.
Every once in a while I would compose a death metal or thrash metal song, sometimes by accident, other times because I was experimenting with a guitar that was in a lower tuning. Those death metal and thrash metal songs eventually found a home when I started Projection Mina, active from 2006 to 2007.
Throne Of Mortality officially ended in January 2007 but the band had been on the back-burner since I started composing music for Vision Lunar in October 2006. This coincided with the start of the Triskalyon collective. All of the affiliated solo projects in Triskalyon were named Vision something. Vision Lunar was named because I would compose music, and release it, on each day of a full moon; Vision Solitude was a dark acoustic folk project which sporadically existed between 2006 and 2010 and dealt with my loneliness; Soufferance (originally named Vision Sufferance) was a self-destructive dark ambient / black ambient project which was very active and prolific between 2006 and 2011, though material continued to be released up until 2014. Another project that was part of the Triskalyon collective, and which I took part of, was Gallia Fornax; a black ambient collaboration with Aurélien Esnault which today would probably be categorized as dungeon synth. But that term did not exist at the time.
Vision Eternel started in January 2007 and was named because it was a very personal project; an extended play about not being able to get over my ex-girlfriend. I was eternally hooked on her. For a while, Philip Altobelli, another member of Triskalyon, played in both Vision Eternel and Vision Lunar. He was the only other member of those bands while I was based in Edison, New Jersey.
From 2007 to 2008 I played in the metalcore band Human Infect, named after Bird Of Ill Omen’s song Watch Human Infect. Apart from Bird Of Ill Omen, the music was mainly influenced by straight-edge metalcore bands of the 1990s and 2000s like Morning Again, Culture, One Nation Under, Terror and Eighteen Visions. I think that the downfall of this band was its lack of originality, and that was because I had not been playing hardcore music for a long enough time to develop my own style.
Right after moving back to Montreal in 2007, I played bass in the indie rock band Green Territory. I came in to replace the original bassist. This was my first time being in a band solely as a performing member, rather than as a songwriter. All of the music was composed by guitarist Vincent Pilon, whom I had met and was working with at a cafe in downtown Montreal. I really liked his songs but for some reason we drifted apart and stopped playing together. We always meant to get back together but I ended up moving to another part of the city. Vincent later reformed the band with a different line-up but that too did not last long.
After Green Territory, I spent several years alternating between Vision Lunar, Vision Eternel and Soufferance. Both Vision Lunar and Vision Eternel were expanded into full bands. Vision Lunar practiced with Josh McConnell from Mad Parish and Mike Dyball from Priestess. Vision Eternel, on the other hand, practiced with Nidal Mourad and Adam Kennedy, two musicians that I met at Recording Arts Canada. With them in the band, Vision Eternel’s sound changed drastically. It began sounding like a mix of indie rock and post-rock and I really liked it. It sounded somewhat like the second movement of Moments Of Absence: Moments Of Endeared Absence.
From January 2010 to February 2011 I was in a post-blackened sludge metal band named Lanterns Awake. The band also featured, at different times, Ivan Byrne, Alex Luca, Guillaume Fleurent and Patrick McDowall. In 2010 I also joined, long-distance, the Mexican dark ambient band Éphémère. I had met keyboardist Monica Renteria on Myspace and she was looking for a guitarist to round out her band. I again collaborated with Éphémère in 2013 and in 2015.
I played in the frostland sludgecore (read that as: Canadian sludge-metal-core) band Murder On Redpath from December 2010 to August 2011. By this time, I had figured out exactly how I wanted to play hardcore music and I really enjoyed the songs that we wrote. It was a little different from the other types of hardcore that were out there at the time. That band was shared with Antoine Trudel, Guy Gaffney, Janie De Jeu and Simon Talbot.
Between 2010 and 2016 I was part of an international ambient band named Citadel Swamp. It started like Triskalyon: a group of ambient musicians hoping to make beautiful music together through equal collaboration. But I ended up having to do all of the work myself and constantly replacing band members because there was a lot of internal jealousy. We worked in a way that we each recorded our own parts separately, then passed them back and forth for mixing until we were all satisfied with the result. But everyone was trying to upstage one another during the mixing by lowering the others’ instruments so that nothing else but their own parts could be heard. I felt that it was unfair and immature. Furthermore, members would become unreachable days before having to deliver final masters to record labels (this happened many, many times) and we missed out on some really promising record deals because of that. There was a lot of negativity affiliated with that project, and after months of inactivity, I ultimately put it to rest in December 2016; that coincided with when I decided to make Vision Eternel my main band again.
-OK, let’s talk about “For Farewell Of Nostalgia,” if we may. The use of the word “nostalgia” in the title seems particularly noteworthy, because of its connotations toward sentimentality, pain, and even isolation or loss of connectedness. And yet, the four substantial tracks that make up this record feel very present, immediate, and passionately engaged. I suspect you’re aiming for a kind of dichotomy by using this focus. Can you talk a bit about that?
The titling of a Vision Eternel release is subject to a long period of reflection. It is by no means an after-thought nor a rushed process. During the composing and recording sessions, I write down words that I feel are representative of my mood and the themes that I am expressing emotionally through the music. Once I find a couple of words that I think work well together, I brainstorm several combinations and I sit on them for a while. Vision Eternel’s release titles need to have a certain rhythm, like a statement-of-fact, a short sentence. I also make sure that the title is completely original, that nothing comes up when searching for it on Google. That is very important to me. If one has been used, or is too similar to another work, I discard it.
The sense of the word farewell in the title is intended to be interpreted in its olde English sense, as in fare thee well. But I did not want to use that kind of phrasing because it did not fit Vision Eternel’s style and concept. I took a little bit of poetic liberty so that in its used phrasing, For Farewell Of Nostalgia means for the well-being of nostalgia.
I felt that I was taking a chance giving this release a title as… grandiose, elegant, perhaps even pretentious, as nostalgia; there was a fear that it might not live up to its name. I take nostalgia very seriously. It has been such an important part of my teenage and adult life, constantly living with the nostalgia of yesterdays. I desperately wanted to represent nostalgia with the utmost respect.
The title, and the entire concept of the extended play, does also symbolize the heartaches of past loves. But it too is an ode, mixed with a Dear John letter, to Montreal. A dispatch saying “thanks for the memories, the wonderful and the miserable; now good-bye”. This is my farewell to the city where I was born and where I came back to as an adult. Where romance and melancholia truly bloomed. I am now living out of Montreal but I think that Vision Eternel will always have a symbolic link to that city.
The titling of the songs is another concept within the concept: adding the first letter of each song title spells out the name of the girl to whom the album is dedicated. This has been consistent across all of Vision Eternel’s extended plays, with the exception of Echoes From Forgotten Hearts because it was originally composed as a soundtrack.
The process for determining the song titles is a little bit different from the release title, but it is just as exhaustive. I know ahead of time how many songs are going to be on the extended play (the amount of letters in the girl’s name). From there, I try to choose single words that are descriptive of the emotions in the songs, but that also represent the progression of events in the story-line. The song titles should define where in the time-line the tragedy is at.
Some time during the recording session I also try to pick out what the common prefix will be for the song titles. In the case of For Farewell Of Nostalgia, the prefix Moments Of had been one that I had considered using for The Last Great Torch Song. But I was unable to due to the complexity of matching the girl’s name with two songs that were re-recorded from previous releases. Since Vision Eternel songs are technically only given a single-word title (Absence, Intimacy, Rain, Nostalgia, Narcosis, etc), the song can be accommodated to fit on any release if it is re-recorded. For example, Absence had originally been recorded for Un Automne En Solitude and was given the title Season In Absence; it was re-recorded for For Farewell Of Nostalgia and its title was updated to Moments Of Absence.
I went a step further with song titles on For Farewell Of Nostalgia. Since the songs were much longer and they all had different sections and movements, different segues and repetitive codas, I was able to provide extended track titles. This was something that I had been interested in utilizing for roughly fifteen years; it was something that impressed me from Harmonium’s concept album L’heptade. I used it to some degree on Soufferance releases, like Travels Into Several Remote Nations Of The Mind (completed in 2009), but it was with For Farewell Of Nostalgia that I incorporated the method to my satisfaction. At first glance, the extended play appears to feature only the four principal songs, but once one delves into the tracks, there are titles for each movement. The extended track listing also parallels the short story.
-Without delving into your personal life, “For Farewell Of Nostalgia” does feel like a record about loss, but not in any specific emotional way. Most of us experience songs of loss through songs with lyrics, having language signposts to guide us through the songwriter’s emotional landscape. On “For Farewell Of Nostalgia” you’ve used your guitars as your lyrics, as your voice. How does your process work, in your ambient “melogaze” world?
In my last answer, I mentioned the extended track listing that accompanies For Farewell Of Nostalgia. Those titles are, in-sort, the chapters to a short story that accompanies the release. The short story is only available with the physical editions of the extended play because I felt that it should be read, like lyrics, in an old-fashioned setting: putting on a record, admiring the sleeve art and reading through every part of the concept while listening.
The short story, appropriately titled For Farewell Of Nostalgia, recounts events that inspired the extended play. It is a narrative of how I was emotionally devastated after falling in love too fast, and the aftermath of this heartbreak. Falling in love-at-first-sight, the intimacy of it all, and the stifling wound when the realization hits that it is not reciprocal. It is about learning to befriend absence and loneliness and living with constant sentiments of nostalgia and melancholia.
I do not want to appear closed-mouthed about the short story; it is simply that I do not want to give too much away. I very much want people to read it and interpret it for themselves.
-I’ve listened to some of your earlier Vision Eternel records, especially “The Last Great Torch Song” (2012, great title, by the way), which has spoken-word elements added to the opening and closing tracks, and “Echoes From Forgotten Hearts” (2015), a series of short guitar meditations, and clearly (to me anyway) “For Farewell Of Nostalgia” is a departure for you. You’ve extended your “canvas” and appear to be reaching for a greater depth of emotional response from these songs. It almost feels like — in some mysterious way — this is the first real Vision Eternel record. Am I way off the mark here? You can tell me!
I can see where you are coming from with that last statement John, that this is the first real Vision Eternel record, but as the composer, I see it a little differently. A lot of bands progress and mature, then begin to condescendingly refer to their earlier releases as demos or inferior products. Vision Eternel has certainly gone through a gradual evolution over the years, but each release was, at the time of completion, the very best material that my heart had to offer. The releases were representative of women who were very dear to me during periods of my life and I really poured my heart into the composing and recording of the material. I never released anything that I thought was rushed or incomplete, or that I felt could be done better. Candidly speaking, and in hindsight, there are of course a few minor things that I wish that I could polish; but I am overall still extremely proud of each and every Vision Eternel release.
I do, however, fully agree with your first statement: that I extended my canvas. On Seul Dans L’Obsession and Un Automne En Solitude, the compositions and arrangements were minimalistic; short songs that sounded sad but remained hopeful. The production was very bright and focused on treble, and that was done on purpose. I was very strict about my gear and setup on those early recordings because I wanted the songs to be identifiable and connected to each other as they were part of concept extended plays.
In 2009, I changed my setup while composing Abondance De Périls. The new setup helped provide a warmer, more accessible sound, which was emphasized, and greatly improved, during the mastering by Adam Kennedy. This was the first time that a Vision Eternel release was mastered. The same setup was used to compose and record the songs that ended up on The Last Great Torch Song.
Up until this point, the songs were still minimalistic but The Last Great Torch Song marked the beginning of a change. It welcomed several guest appearances by my close friends: Garry Brents on keyboard, Alexander Fawcett on guitar and bass and Howard Change and Eiman Iraninejad on vocals. I was unsure of Vision Eternel’s future at that point so I was treating The Last Great Torch Song as a potential swansong. I had hoped to incorporate many more guests on the release but many were not able to provide their contributions in time for the mastering deadline.
The Last Great Torch Song‘s closer Sometimes In Absolute Togetherness was the real turning point. The song had originally been composed and recorded as a Soufferance song, but it always felt to me like it had far too much of Vision Eternel’s style to be a true Soufferance song. I was torn but I ultimately used it on a Vision Eternel release; that was my first of many steps letting go of the strict guidelines that I had set for Vision Eternel. Soufferance was much darker, more self-destructive; it had longer songs and experimented with more instruments and vocals. Vision Eternel by contrast was straight-forward guitar-based music; optimistic and hopeful (I always hoped that the girl would come back).
Things changed further with Echoes From Forgotten Hearts in 2014/2015 and that is because that release was not recorded, nor approached, as Vision Eternel. I had been contacted to compose the soundtrack to a short film. I therefore approached the songwriting as myself, without the restrictions that I normally placed to conform the music within what is expected of a certain band. It was a completely natural songwriting approach. When the short film fell through, I was unwilling to let this music be unheard because I was really proud of it. So I partly re-recorded, re-edited, re-mixed and re-conceptualized the soundtrack into an extended play. I released it under the Vision Eternel banner because that was the project closest to my heart and I felt that the music sounded most like Vision Eternel did at that point.
Having broken so many barriers along the way, and considering that Vision Eternel had become my principal band, I was now free to compose music that was entirely natural to me. I no longer felt the pressure to sort songs into what each band was supposed to sound like. Vision Eternel’s new material was simply going to incorporate the best of what I once brought to each of my ambient bands (Vision Eternel, Soufferance, Citadel Swamp and Éphémère).
But in a realistic sense, since Vision Eternel was always my pet project, the new material will not be alien in comparison to the older works; it is simply a natural progression, placing less restrictions on myself over the years. I still approach Vision Eternel compositions with the same emotions, the same themes; always about heartbreak. Hitchcock once said “self-plagiarism is style”, and I think that applies to Vision Eternel. But I am now incorporating additional elements, which are already familiar to folks accustomed with my other bands. From Soufferance, I brought in longer songs, the segues and movements, the lengthy emotional build ups and the hypnotic, repetitive codas (think of Swans in the mid-1990s). From Vision Lunar and Éphémère, I brought in guitar leads; that was something that I was not utilizing often in my ambient projects. And from Citadel Swamp, I brought in the way that I layer and mix several instruments together; finding ways of making leads flow over rhythms tracks. The music took a long time to be polished though, I spent nearly three years working and re-working the songs that ended up on For Farewell Of Nostalgia.
-You mentioned to me in an email that after you completed “Echoes From Forgotten Hearts” you had difficulty composing new music for a while. There were too many competing projects and bands in your life, you couldn’t get the focus right. Everything about Vision Eternel — as a vocation — feels deeply personal to me, deeply emotional. How did you find your way back to writing again?
I did have some difficulty composing new music before For Farewell Of Nostalgia, but to be fully accurate, it was not immediately after completing Echoes From Forgotten Hearts. Between those two Vision Eternel releases, I shuffled between many bands and projects. Echoes From Forgotten Hearts was composed and recorded between August and December 2014; I then took a couple of months off from recording while I prepared for the February 14, 2015 release date. During those months I worked on the official biography of an early 1990s Canadian metalcore band.
Immediately after that, in February 2015, I began playing Vision Lunar material, though I had no plans to do anything further with it; that came later in the year. I jumped from that into a failed attempt at composing dark ambient material for Soufferance in February and March. Then from March to April I worked extensively on several Citadel Swamp songs; a few were completed and a couple were left unfinished. Things were cut short because I was forced to move in April 2015.
It took a couple of months to settle in and I finally returned to music when I collaborated with Éphémère from June to July 2015. Right after that, between August and September 2015, I composed, arranged and recorded Vision Lunar’s come-back extended play Luna Subortus. Wanting an outlet to release the new Éphémère recording, I began putting together a Various Artists compilation through Abridged Pause Recordings; a follow-up to 2009’s Diluvian Temperals titled Billowing Tempestus. The production of this release spanned from July 2015 to April 2016. There were hold-ups outside of my control with Billowing Tempestus and I unfortunately had to shelve it. That coincided with when I realized that I was having songwriter’s block. I was dried up. So I reluctantly decided to step back from composing music and focus on different writing projects, specifically the official biography of a major metal record label band and the official biography of an Oscar-winning Hollywood film producer.
I did not actively play guitar for about a year and half, from roughly October 2015 to February 2017. There were several attempts along the way but my heart was not into it. The complexity of it all was depressing me and I did not know where to start or which band to work with: Citadel Swamp, Soufferance, Vision Lunar or Vision Eternel? In December 2016 I realized that I had completely missed out on Soufferance and Vision Lunar’s ten-year anniversary; it had come and gone in September 2016. That really saddened me because I had hoped to highlight the event with new music. Ultimately, I decided that I needed to focus on a single band and put all of my efforts into it.
Vision Eternel was always my favourite and most personal band so I chose to dedicate myself to it alone. By coincidence, Vision Eternel’s ten-year anniversary was coming up in January 2017 so the timing really felt just right. But I had a lot of work ahead of me; it had been six years since I had actively promoted Vision Eternel. My first goal was to re-build the band’s online presence; create social media pages, update the biographies, set up a new photo shoot and get the music and videos out to streaming platforms. I once thought of Vision Eternel as being exclusive and niche but at that point I wanted to be accessible; I wanted new and old fans to be able to find information about the band easily. I also wanted to release the long-delayed An Anthology Of Past Misfortunes boxed set.
I began composing and recording demos in the spring of 2017 but I put that aside to finish compiling the boxed set. Once that was released in April 2018, I could go forward, without hindrance, composing and recording. From April to October 2018 I recorded For Farewell Of Nostalgia. But I was not happy with it. There were a number of things that I felt were wrong with the release. Some things were unacceptable like crackling, distortion and humming in the recordings. I attempted to re-record a lot of it, only to find out that some of it was caused by my studio cables and my sound card. Just as I started to fix that problem, an uncontrollable fret buzz plagued the main guitar that I was recording with.
Some of the other problems had to do with personal preferences. For example, I did not feel that the songs flowed well together; they all sounded too different. I was also having difficulty mixing because I was using too many layers and effects. These original recordings, which I later started referring to as pre-production versions, were a lot darker, harsher and abrasive, not only in sound but in nature; I had a different perspective and approach when I was recording them. It was a very difficult decision to make, because I had garnered record label interest, but I put the release aside, for what ended up being a whole year, while I regrouped, once again.
Throughout the spring and summer of 2019 I upgraded my gear and studio equipment. In early October 2019 I started re-recording For Farewell Of Nostalgia; by mid-November I was done tracking. Minor mixing and editing lasted until late December while I wrote the short story. As mentioned previously, it was a well-contained recording session because this time around, I wanted the songs to sound like they belonged together and I knew where I was going. Every song was re-recorded in a consistent mind-frame and I was very proud of the result. The songs greatly improved the second time around, especially once I added the leads. Nearly everything that appears on For Farewell Of Nostalgia was recorded during the 2019 session, with the exception of a couple of backing tracks that I kept from 2018 because I felt that the emotions were stronger on the original recordings.
-You’ve referred to “For Farewell Of Nostalgia” as a “concept album.” I’m thinking that all of your records, especially for Vision Eternel, are concept albums. But it also occurs to me, especially after listening to much of your earlier work, that there might be such a thing as a “sketchbook” album, meaning some records are studies for something to come, rather than being a complete work unto themselves, a complete narrative, with a plotted sequence throughout. Again, am I way of the mark here?
I am very fond of concept albums and I enjoy making them. It comes naturally to me. That may be because several concept albums were very influential to me as a teenager. Releases like Pink Floyd’s The Wall; Harmonium’s Si On Avait Besoin D’une Cinquième Saison, and more importantly L’heptade; The Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and Machina; Boys Night Out’s Trainwreck; Fantômas’ discography; and King Diamond’s multi-album story-line.
My earliest foray into a concept release was with Vision Lunar: the band released concept demo singles on each day of a full moon. Vision Eternel’s debut extended play Seul Dans L’obsession came next. I then took the concept album much further with Soufferance’s series Travels. An introductory extended play was titled Forthcoming Travels, while the full-length album was titled Travels Into Several Remote Nations Of The Mind. The releases were a dedication to authors that influenced my childhood and allowed me to travel to places in my mind. The title was also an homage to Jonathan Swift’s novel Travels Into Several Remote Nations Of The World, better known as Gulliver’s Travels. Soufferance then did a second series of conceptual releases titled Tristesse. That included the extended play Bonjour Tristesse and the album Adieu Tristesse. This concept revisited a period of my adolescent life, dealing with depression and frequenting psychologists and hospitals. A third concept was planned for Soufferance, titled Memories, which was to cover my return to Montreal, and later my departure, but it was never completed. In a sense, Vision Eternel’s For Farewell Of Nostalgia completed that cycle.
Several of my other bands have also worked on concept albums over the years. My metalcore band Human Infect had planned an extended play themed around crimes punishable by death in Britain prior to the 1828 reform. Lanterns Awake was going to have an extended play based on prehistoric times, while Murder On Redpath was working on another 19th century-themed extended play centered around Montreal’s development by the Redpath family. I would say that, not only are concept albums important to me, but so are extended plays. They work well with my method of expression.
One of the reasons why perhaps For Farewell Of Nostalgia feels more complete and conceptual than earlier Vision Eternel releases is because the sequencing of the songs was already planned before I started recording. That is, before I started the re-recording session in 2019. That allowed me to properly end and start each song in a way that it was complementary. I was mindful of how editing one song may alter the others, which is not possible (or would require additional editing at a later time) if the sequencing is done during the mastering stage. Because of the lengthy preparation that went into it, nearly three years in the making, I was able to record all of the songs in a contained environment; as I I had done with Vision Eternel’s first two extended plays.
The sequencing of the songs is really important when I approach a concept release. I think that one of the benefits of the digital era is that musicians are no longer restricted by time. While sequencing For Farewell Of Nostalgia, it occurred to me that today’s music standards are all based on the development of sound recording and releasing trends. Popular music was always limited in length by how much could fit on the most popular format of the time. I had previously run into this issue with Soufferance, as both albums, Travels Into Several Remote Nations Of The Mind and Adieu Tristesse, had to be edited to fit the maximum length of a compact disc.
I found myself somewhat restricted by this while assembling For Farewell Of Nostalgia, having to keep in mind the length-per-side of a 12″ vinyl and of a compact cassette. Both sides have to be relatively equal in length, which was difficult to accomplish with only four songs, yet wanting to respect the concept and sequencing. To correct this, the vinyl edition (currently unreleased) and tape edition each have a hidden and exclusive bonus track at the end of the A-side. The two compact disc editions also have exclusive hidden bonus tracks, but those are located elsewhere on the medium.
One of my ambitions with For Farewell Of Nostalgia was to present something different to the ambient community; to face them with a release that embarks an alternate pathway; a profound approach of focus. Vision Eternel is not destined to be used in the background while listeners perform other tasks. From the visual presentation of the cover art and packaging, to the conceptual delivery within the production, the extended song titles and the short story, For Farewell Of Nostalgia was my way of documenting and sharing my most personal sentiments.